With exactly a week to go until the start of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, UEFA.com sat down with Germany's Christian Wück to discuss his team's preparations, their prospects in Malta and his mission statement as an international youth coach.
UEFA.com: How difficult was qualifying for the finals? You drew 1-1 in the decisive elite round match against Serbia and went through on goal difference.
Christian Wück: It was a close call. Serbia pushed us really close and posed us plenty of problems. We noticed that the players, having not featured in the qualifying round [after being given a bye], weren't familiar with this kind of pressure situation. Suddenly losing wasn't an option, which was very surprising for some players – it really influences your performance.
UEFA.com: How important are competitive games when compared to friendlies and tournaments such as the Algarve Cup?
Wück: It is incredibly important for players to take note, even though they are still young, of how things work in the world of professional sports and what kind of pressure exists from both the media and internally. This experience, which UEFA offers with qualifying and the finals, would have been helpful even if we had failed.
UEFA.com: What pressure are you referring to?
Wück: Above all it is the internal pressure. I am referring to a positive pressure, not a negative one.
We all have certain standards: the DFB does, so do the coaches and the players, who all want to achieve a lot. It's a learning process.
UEFA.com: What do you make of your group in Malta?
Wück: We have bascially played all of them before, except for Scotland. There are no big surprises left. We don't know Malta very well, but we cannot meet them in the group stage anyway.
UEFA.com: Switzerland look like especially tough opposition having ousted Spain and holders Russia in the elite round …
Wück: That was no surprise to us. Back in the U16s we drew 1-1 against Switzerland in a tournament in Austria. They have an age group there which is physically and mentally very strong. They are playing dynamic football, are technically gifted, try to dominate possession and are tactically very well drilled. They change between a 4-1-4-1 and 4-4-2. Portugal are similar to Switzerland regarding their system and the way they behave on the pitch. They also have players who are individually very talented.
UEFA.com: Does an U17 coach have the opportunity to coach players in training or do you have to rely almost exclusively on matches?
Wück: Both. At the DFB, we try to give the players the best conditions we can. We always try to make them aware of the fact that while they are already at a very good level, they are competing with the best there is at international level. We make sure we never waste a minute of training and do all our drills at our top level.
UEFA.com: In an interview on the German FA's website, you mentioned the importance of efficiency. How do you coach that?
Wück: By having a high state of mental alertness on the pitch. Every drill, even if it is only a small passing drill, should be done like it's part of a match. I can play a ten-metre pass to my team-mate that takes three seconds to arrive or one second to arrive.
UEFA.com: Do you have certain key players in this group?
Wück: There is Bayer 04 Leverkusen midfielder Benjamin Henrichs, who is captain as he already has those leadership skills and played in qualifying last season with the group born in 1996. Central-defender Benedikt Gimber is already playing at U19 level with Hoffenheim and is very calm, while Philipp Ochs, another Hoffenheim player, scored most of our goals in the elite round.
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